On the occasion of the Seattle Mariners first Cactus League game of the spring – in which several potential Tacoma Rainiers are in the starting lineup – let’s continue our preseason series with a look at the Tacoma outfield situation.
At first glance it appears that the Mariners organization is temporarily a little light in the Triple-A outfield. However, it is a situation that should soon correct itself.
The Seattle outfield seems to be set, with nobody seemingly at risk of being sent down: Jay Bruce, Mitch Haniger, Domingo Santana, and Mallex Smith.
The Tacoma outfield group features two players with Triple-A experience, one player clearly due for a promotion from Double-A, and then a large group of prospects the organization likes but have barely played any Double-A games.
Tacoma fans will be familiar with our two experienced players, albeit in very different ways.
Ian Miller should be back after a very busy winter. The speedster hit .261 with 33 stolen bases for Tacoma last year, and with 46 steals over a season-and-a-quarter he already ranks 17th on the all-time Tacoma stolen base list. With thirty more steals this year, he would zoom all the way to No. 2 on the list. Dell Alston of the Tacoma Yankees-Tugs-Tigers is the all-time leader with 92 swipes from 1978 to 1980 (he is also the only man in Tacoma history to play for three different team names).
After the 2018 Rainiers season ended, Miller went on to play in the Arizona Fall League, and when that ended he played in the Mexican Winter League. He certainly got his work in.
The other familiar player is Dustin Ackley, who should be back with the Rainiers for the first time since 2013. The former Mariners first round draft pick has been playing left field, first base, and a little second base for Salt Lake the last two years.
University of Washington product Braden Bishop has earned a promotion from Double-A Arkansas, and we expect him to be the regular center fielder for Tacoma at the start of the season. Bishop hit .284 with eight home runs and a .361 on-base percentage last year, and he probably would have received a late-season promotion to Tacoma if his campaign hadn’t been cut short by a fractured forearm. He is known to be a very good defensive outfielder.
After those three players, we are looking at a group of guys with very little Double-A experience, and questions about how willing the Mariners are to rush them up to Triple-A.
Minor league free agent signing Tito Polo received an invitation to big league camp, and he could slot in as Tacoma’s fourth outfielder. But Polo has played in only 81 career Double-A games, no Triple-A games, and missed most of last season with an injury. He’s a speedy guy kind of similar to Miller.
Mariners 2016 first round pick Kyle Lewis has played in just 37 Double-A games, hitting .220. He needs more time there – perhaps even a full season; although if he is having a good year we might see him after the all-star break.
Eric Filia played in 79 games for Arkansas last year, batting .274 with a very good .371 on-base percentage. He rarely strikes out but hit just two homers – PCL ballparks might give him a power boost should the M’s decide to move him up.
Two outfielders we’ll be keeping an eye on in Double-A this year are Jake Fraley and Dom Thompson-Williams. Each was acquired in an off-season trade, performed well at Advanced-A last year in their previous organization, and appears set for an Arkansas assignment to start the year.
Other possible outfield fill-ins could come from the Rainiers infield group. There has been a little chatter that the Mariners might give second baseman Shed Long some outfield reps to improve his positional flexibility. First baseman Joey Curletta played some corner outfield in the lower levels of the minors and presumably could go out there from time to time if needed.
That’s the Triple-A outfield situation for now. Next week we’ll get to the Rainiers starting rotation candidates.
- Yesterday the Mariners worked on situational plays and base running, and highlights were turned in by a pair of teenage outfield prospects.
- Ichiro Suzuki is 45-years-old and doesn’t look out of place in spring training, Ryan Divish writes. He’s hoping to be on the active roster for the two official games in Japan in March.
- The young prospects are already making a mark in spring training. Some of them are half of Ichiro’s age.
- Greg Johns caught up with Dustin Ackley, who we project will be with the Rainiers on opening day. Larry Stone has a more detailed column on him.
- Kyle Seager is trimmer this spring. He put in a lot of off-season work.
- Yoked reliever Dan Altavilla spent his offseason working to improve his flexibility as he tries to become a permanent member of the Mariners bullpen.
- Mallex Smith has a dinged up throwing arm.
- Mariners second baseman Dee Gordon is healthy and hoping for a bounce-back season. Make sure you are ready first before reading this story on Gordon coping with domestic violence and the death of his mother.
- The M’s are still looking at adding another catcher – preferably one who bats right-handed.
- First base prospect (and likely Double-A Arkansas bound) Evan White helped out a spring training autograph collector.
- Former Rainiers lefty from long ago Ryan Feierabend is back from Korea and in spring training with the Toronto Blue Jays, where he is the rarest of birds: a left-handed knuckleball pitcher.
- In the PCL, the Salt Lake Bees announced that former catcher Lou Marson will manage the team this year, while former Mariners reliever and friend-of-the-blog Pat Rice will be the pitching coach.